Since taste is such a personal thing and specific types of users are drawn to specific types of distributions, it’s almost impossible to say “Distribution A is best suited for User X” because there are too many variables to affect your opinion. When you dive into the waters of enterprise computing, however, things begin to get a little clearer. Certain distributions begin to rise to the top. I thought I’d take a moment to offer up my list of best Linux distros for large companies. This list is not based on sales numbers, Distrowatch, or marketing hype. For this list, it’s all about experience and (hopefully) a sound insight into what is to come. And I’m not going to compare feature for feature. Why? This is open source, so it’s possible to roll in whatever feature you want. Even proprietary features eventually can be reverse-engineered.

I’ll tackle both the server and the desktop. First, we’ll look at the server.

Best server distros

I want to assume, since we’re speaking of enterprise-level needs, that money is no object. Because of that, the single best choice for an enterprise server distribution is Red Hat Linux. Why? Because they get the needs of large companies. In fact, the bread and butter of RHEL is large companies. All one really has to do is look at the Red Hat application stack and it becomes quite clear. With tools like JBoss Application Server as a middleware solution for serving up Java-based applications as well as other cloud-based solutions, you have a platform that is as powerful as it is flexible.

But beyond the software (which anyone could re-create and deploy — thank you, open source), you have the partnerships Red Hat has developed, which helps to focus the enterprise mindset of Red Hat. AMD, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel — do those names ring a bell? And what about support? Red Hat also offers numerous resources for the enterprise in the way of support, including a vast open source library.

Best Use

  • Cloud platform
  • Virtualization
  • High availability cluster

Next to Red Hat, the best enterprise-level server distribution would be SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. With SLES you will find just as robust a platform as you will with Red Hat, but on a somewhat smaller scale. Yes, SLES can handle the loads enterprise environments place on servers, but SUSE doesn’t have quite the reputation or market share to ensure as bright a future as does Red Hat.

Best Uses

  • Virtualization
  • Firewall
  • File server

Best desktop distros

The times have changed and enterprise companies are starting to see the benefits of using Linux on the desktop. And why not? It’s secure, it’s reliable, it performs incredibly well, and is cost effective. Though one might think the best choice for an enterprise desktop would be one distributed by the likes of Red Hat (Red Hat Enterprise Desktop) or SUSE (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop). But, for me, the desktop apple falls a bit away from that tree. There’s a new player on the field that has really changed the scope of how the end user works. That new player is Chrome OS.

Chrome OS makes perfect sense because its narrow focus ensures an enterprise IT department can deploy desktops to end users and know that they more reliably function on a much simpler platform. Companies will have less worry about viruses or even end users installing apps that are outside the scope of their duties. And with seamless integration with Google Apps, Chrome OS just makes sense. And with Google behind Chrome OS — it is sure to continue to thrive and grow.

Best use

  • Desktop users who rely on Google Apps
  • Web-based tool interaction

The next best choice for the enterprise desktop probably won’t surprise you one bit — Ubuntu Linux. But why Ubuntu, when portions of the open source community are spitting such venom their way? Ubuntu is on this list for a few reasons. The primary reason Ubuntu should be included in the short list of enterprise desktop platforms is vision. No matter how you feel about the choices Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have made, it cannot be denied that, outside of Google, they have done more to get Linux to the masses than any other. To accomplish this, a lot of professional polish has been applied to Ubuntu. All of that hard work, focus, and polish has paid off to deliver a professional, business-ready desktop for the masses. Once the Ubuntu Phone and Tablet finally arrive, there will be a unified platform that businesses can roll out to make life easier for end users of all types.

Best use

  • Desktop user
  • Mobile user
  • Power user
  • Developer

Of course, there will be those who argue (there always is with Linux), but those are my best choices for enterprise use. Some might argue that there are better distributions for the desktop; some might even say Linux still isn’t ready for business… but the trends don’t lie. Enterprise-level companies get it. Red Hat, SUSE, Google, and Canonical get it. When the dust settles, it will be those distributions making the most noise in larger companies. Now, it’s just a matter of time before that noise filters down into the medium to small companies.